The management of residential landscapes occurs within a complex socio-ecological system linking household decision-making with ecological properties, multi-scalar human drivers, and the legacy effects of past management. Conventional wisdom suggests that resource-intensive turf grass yards are the most common landscaping outcome, resulting in a presumed homogeneous set of residential landscaping practices throughout North America. We examine this homogenization thesis through an interview-based, cross-site study of residential landscape management in Boston, Phoenix, and Miami. Counter to the homogeneity thesis, we find that yard management practices often exhibit heterogeneity, for example, in groundcover choice or use of chemical inputs. The degree of heterogeneity in management practices varies according to the scale of analysis, and is the outcome of a range of constraints and opportunities to which households respond differently depending on their existing yard and landscaping preferences. This study highlights the importance of multi-scalar and cross-site analyses of decision-making in socio-ecological systems, and presents opportunities for longitudinal and cross-site research to examine the extent to which homogeneity is actually present in the management of residential landscapes over time and in diverse places.
Harris, E., C. Polsky, K. Larson, R. Garvoille, D. Martin, J. Brumand, L.A. Ogden. 2012. Heterogeneity in Residential Yard Care: Evidence from Boston, Miami, and Phoenix. Human Ecology 40: 735-749.